In the Formula 1 driver’s chess club

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But it’s not the only sport or pastime that’s enjoying such a surge. In October 2020, The Queen’s Gambit became a hit on Netflix, based on the 1983 novel about a female chess wonder, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who becomes the world’s greatest player.

This led to a massive surge in interest in chess. Retailers reported that chessboard sales rose up to 1,000%, according to The New York Times, while new signups at chess.com, one of the world’s largest online chess websites, were seven times higher than usual.

But it wasn’t just the general public that started 2021 with an increased interest in playing chess, which this year has become one of the great new hobbies for F1 drivers alongside golf and padel.

Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. are the two drivers who have taken chess the most seriously this year. Sainz and Leclerc not only excelled as teammates on the track and helped lead Ferrari to third place in the constructors’ championship ahead of McLaren, Sainz and Leclerc have also become good friends off the track. It gives the atmosphere in Maranello a youthful, fresh note.

Chess has always been a Leclerc interest, but when he and Sainz looked for something to do during the quiet periods early in the season, it quickly became competitive.

“I’ve always been there, I always liked chess as a kid,” Leclerc told Autosport.

“I think it was during all the media days at the beginning of the year, we didn’t know what to do and I was playing chess and he saw me and said, OK, I’ll download this.

“We got pretty crazy in the first half of the year. We played against each other and never stopped. “

For Sainz in particular, it was a new obsession. “He fucking loves his chess with Charles,” said former McLaren team-mate Lando Norris. “I think I might have beaten him in the first game – then I just stopped! I could be wrong, he would probably tell you that I am lying …

“He played for hours, he and Charles. I never knew before that he was playing. “

From the flights between races to the sessions in the car to the long rain delay at the Belgian Grand Prix, Leclerc and Sainz were tied to their phones and played with each other via an app.

And unsurprisingly, it has become incredibly competitive. In a video for Autosport earlier this year, Leclerc and Sainz discussed who is better at chess and who wins games more often.

“Today we played on the plane and it was 2-2,” Sainz told Leclerc. “And you didn’t want to play the last one. So if anything … I had the upper hand. “

“No, no,” replied Leclerc. “Do you remember Spa?” Sainz claimed he lost because he was so focused on the race.

“He’s very good at night chess. So when we come back from the races after 9pm, he’ll be very good, ”said Leclerc. “But I feel much better from morning to night.”

But Leclerc and Sainz aren’t the only drivers who have made massive chess entries this year. Between the sessions and various commitments on the race weekends in Haas, Mick Schumacher is another driver who usually plays the game with whatever free time he has available.

A chessboard has become Schumacher’s essential equipment to take to races and allow him to sit down and play to relax. Schumacher usually plays with Kai Schnapka, a physiotherapist who worked with Michael Schumacher towards the end of his F1 career before teaming up with Mick in the junior categories. Schumacher also played a few games with Timo Glock, but has yet to play against the Ferrari drivers.

But it was only by chance that Schumacher really got into chess. “We have a chessboard at home, we always played it here and there, but never really,” Schumacher told Autosport / Motorsport.com.

“We were very into backgammon, Kai and me. And then we actually stopped playing – we forgot our backgammon board and the only thing we had was chess, so we started playing chess!

“Then we mixed chess and backgammon for a while and now we’re basically just playing chess. It’s fun, I hit him the whole time! “

Mick Schumacher, Haas F1 Team

Photo by: Haas F1 Team

Schumacher made chess better and better over the course of the year. “I lost most of them earlier this year,” he said. “Then for some reason I understood the game a little better and started winning most of them.”

Schumacher sees exactly this mental improvement in the test. In an interview with GP Racing in May, he spoke about the advantages of such games.

“I have the feeling that these games bring the focus back because you always have to be mindful,” said Schumacher. “On a weekend I always want to be mentally ready for every challenge that comes.”

Also read:

Next year’s season of 23 races will give drivers more time than ever on the road, which means more flights and more time on the racetracks to fill in between their racing duties – and for the unofficial but growing chess club of F1 maybe a few more members.


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